~by: Jewel Philemon~
“Mr See had not stated the subject matter of the forum in his application form. The Institute’s constitution states that it is not allowed to hold events of a political nature.” – David Ang, Executive Director, Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI)
Singaporeans for Democracy (SFD) held a closed door forum last Saturday, titled ‘LKY: liberal democracy will do us in. Will it?’ The forum featured the likes of Cambodian MP, Ms Mu Sochua; Malaysian MP, Mr Tian Chew; Former ISA detainee, Mr Vincent Cheng; and popular blogger/activist Mr Alex Au, speaking on democracy and human rights with a regional perspective.
However, the event, which was to have been held at the SHRI training room at The Verge shopping mall, became entangled in a predicament even before it commenced. The organizing team, who had arrived at their pre-booked venue to set-up, found security guards, a cancellation notice and glass panel doors at the sixth floor awaiting them.
“We had already pre-booked the venue with SHRI, but when we arrived, we saw that they had cancelled our booking”, said Dr James Gomez, Executive Director of SFD. He added that the SFD had received an email from SHRI the day before, but they (SFD) decided to go ahead with the original venue as it was a breach of contract considering the fact that they had booked the venue three weeks in advance and had paid the full fee of 599 dollars.
“But they were still adamant. But there was nothing we could do because we had speakers and we had already spent money and so on and people had come. So we decided to go ahead with it by quickly trying to organize an alternative site”, Dr Gomez remarked.
The forum was postponed to a later timing of 4pm (from the original 2pm) and was relocated to Public House on 42 Circular Road.
“We did lose quite a lot of people”, Dr Gomez disclosed, “I think we had about 85 people and I think we lost about 30 people easily. Easily! And I’m disappointed, actually.”
It seems that the SHRI incident was so harrowing that Ms Mu Sochua, in her 25 minute segment, said that she would “rather fight for democracy in Cambodia than be treated the way we were treated earlier.” It is curious to note that Ms Sochua made this statement after showing a clip of the severity of the fight for democracy in Cambodia, where policemen were hitting Ms Sochua, her comrades and supporters for assembling in the support of the opposition.
Grace, a participant at the forum, also commented that the situation at The Verge was a disadvantageous one as many other participants who initially wanted to attend the forum left as they were frustrated by the hassle of shifting to another location. She added that she does not understand why the booking was cancelled at such a last minute.
In a later statement, Mr David Ang, executive director of SHRI, said that Mr Martyn See, executive secretary of SFD, did not specify the nature of the forum on his application and that he (Mr Ang) only came to know of the subject of the forum when he chanced upon a webpage advertising the event a few days earlier. He elaborated that SHRI’s constitution does not allow it to facilitate ‘events of a political nature’.
“They said it is a political talk. So what? It is not illegal. So, what’s going on?” questioned Dr Gomez.
Mr Martyn See further clarified that he did not state the title of the talk on the application form, as SFD had not decided on a title at the time, and that SHRI received their application without the intent stated. SFD did receive an official receipt upon payment to confirm their booking, confirms Mr See, and a refund has now been offered by Mr Ang.
While the question of why political talks are disallowed by a private organization begs to be asked, it is more important to question the outright absurdity of the inconsistencies in SHRI’s administrative processes. It is certainly ludicrous that SHRI received payment, issued a receipt and so confirmed the booking, despite the forms being improperly filled. If events with political tones are banned from their premises, would they not, first and foremost, try to establish which category a proposed event fell into, before giving them the green signal?
Mr See, when contacted by TOC, added that he had previously organized a forum on the Marxist conspiracy arrests, ‘Operation Spectrum’, which was to have been held at the Bestway Building Auditorium, but the venue withdrew a week before the event’s date, citing a visit from the CID and pressure from police investigations as their reasons. The forum was shifted to The Quality Hotel at a later date.
“But anyway, we couldn’t wait and deliberate on it, we needed to move quickly as it was an operational matter.” Dr Gomez opined, in regards to Saturday’s forum.
Nevertheless, Dr Gomez said that regardless of the crippling circumstances the SFD faced, he felt that they made the most out of it and added that he deemed the event a success based on the robust discussion that the forum evoked. He mentioned that the SFD is looking into holding similar talks in the near future as well.